10 countries where child soldiers are still recruited in armed conflicts
Ten years ago world leaders agreed to work together to stop the use of child soldiers - progress has been made but there are still child recruits in countries around the world. As many as 300,000 children are believed to be serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world - depriving them of a normal childhood and education.
These boys and girls, some as young as seven, serve in government forces and armed opposition groups. They fight on front lines, participate in suicide missions and act as spies, messengers or lookouts.
Girls are often forced into sexual slavery. Many are abducted or recruited by force, while others join out of desperation, believing that these armed groups offer their best chance for survival.
Last week, leaders gathered in France to mark the 10th anniversary of the Paris Commitments to end the use of children in conflict.
At least 65,000 children have been released from armed forces and armed groups in that decade, according to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.
“Ten years ago the world made a commitment to the children of war and matched it with action - action that has helped give 65,000 children a new chance for a better life,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said at the Paris anniversary talks.
“But today’s meeting is not only about looking back at what has been accomplished - but looking forward to the work that remains to be done to support the children of war.”
Here's a look at 10 of the countries where child soldiers are still be recruited and used in conflicts.
The Afghan National Police, the Afghan Local Police and three armed groups including Taliban forces, were listed as perpetrators by the UN in 2015. Also in that year Child Soldiers International interviewed a 17-year-old boy from Kunar province who had signed up when he was 15 or 16 using a fake ID card. During his recruitment, only the doctor who completed his medical examination asked his age. He went on to join a group of approximately 60 other new recruits for training in Kabul. He thought that around a quarter of them were younger than him.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
As many as 10,000 children were used by armed groups involved in the latest conflict in CAR, according to Child Soldiers International. Armed groups in the mainly Muslim Séléka coalition and predominantly Christian militias called Anti-Balaka both used children as young as eight. The children are used as combatants, guards, human shields, porters, messengers, spies, cooks and/or for sexual purposes.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
In 2011 it was estimated there were 30,000 child soldiers in DRC. In January-February 2016, Child Soldiers International spent six weeks in eastern DRC and interviewed more than 150 former girl soldiers. Children continue to be recruited and used by numerous armed groups. Girls are often used as "wives" and sexually abused by their commanders and other soldiers. Although a third of all children associated with armed groups in DRC are thought to be girls, they make up only about 7% of children released to date. When they are released or escape from armed groups, they receive little or no support to reintegrate into their communities, and many are shunned.
Human Rights Watch has documented the recruitment or use of children by Sunni and Shia Arab armed groups fighting in Iraq, including militias in the battle to retake Mosul. Armed groups in Iraq affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party have recruited boys and girls, according to an HRW report in December. It documented 29 cases in northern Iraq in which Kurdish and Yezidi children were recruited by two armed groups, the People’s Defense Forces (Hêzên Parastina Gel, or HPG) and the Shingal Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedana Şingal, or YBŞ).
Internal armed conflicts have seen children widely used by both state armed forces and armed groups. Despite a minimum enlistment age of 18, large numbers of boys have been recruited, often forcibly, into the national army. Child Soldiers International has helped secure the release of 700 children from the army since 2012 while action has been taken against 382 national army officials.
The terrorist group Boko Haram recruited 2000 child soldiers in 2016, according to the UN. It was also reported that they used girls as suicide bombers in Maiduguri, when two bombs went off killing at least one person. A local militia member, Abdulkarim Jabo, was reported to have said he thought the girls were each aged about seven or eight, commenting: "They got out of a rickshaw and walked right in front of me without showing the slightest sign of emotion. I tried to speak with one of them, in Hausa and in English, but she didn't answer. I thought they were looking for their mother. She headed toward the poultry sellers, then detonated her explosives belt."
In April 2016, the UN reported that 903 children had been recruited - 555 by Al-Shabaab. Around 150 children were reportedly abducted for recruitment purposes from madrasas by Al-Shabaab in the Bay region. Of those cases, 26 (all boys) were verified by the UN. The Somali National Army also recruited a high number of children (218), who were used for various tasks, such as manning checkpoints. Recruitment was also attributed to clan militias (68), Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama‘a (40) and Galmudug forces (17).
An estimated 17,000 children have been recruited in South Sudan since 2013. Many children were recruited by the Cobra Faction and the SPLA In Opposition, two armed groups which have been fighting the government. Last October, 145 child soldiers were released, according to UNICEF.
Since 2014, warring sides have recruited children as young as seven. More than half of children recruited in cases verified by UNICEF in 2015 were under 15. Children have been filmed executing prisoners in grisly propaganda videos by the Islamic State group. Last year the UN said: “A total of 362 cases of recruitment and use of children were verified and attributed to ISIL (274), the Free Syrian Army and affiliated groups (62), Liwa’ al-Tawhid (11), popular committees (5), Kurdish People’s Protection Units (4), Ahrar al-Sham (3), the Nusrah Front (2) and the Army of Islam (1). Of the verified cases, 56% involved children under 15 years of age, a significant increase compared with 2014. The payment of salaries and ideology continued to be major influencing factors.”
There have been nearly 1500 cases of child recruitment in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in 2015. According to UNICEF, this is a long-term problem in Yemen. In Yemeni culture, it’s considered that a boy enters manhood at the age of 14 or 15 - and part of being a man is taking up a weapon. The UN documented nearly 850 cases of child recruitment in 2015, a five-fold increase over 2014. Houthi forces recruited a majority of these children - but Popular Committees and the extremist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which at times reportedly fought alongside pro-government forces, also recruited children. In 2013, the UN secretary-general cited reports of young boys being recruited by Al-Qaeda, also called Ansar al-Sharia, for sexual exploitation.